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Visual Feedback Significant For Imitating Facial Expressions

Update Date: Dec 28, 2012 05:29 AM EST

A new research suggests that our ability to imitate facial expressions depends on learning that occurs through visual feedback.

It is already well known that imitating another person's postures and expressions is an important social lubricant. When you are able to imitate another person's expressions, it means you can empathize with that person. However, how exactly do we imitate others when we can't see our own facial expressions and we can't feel the facial expressions of others? Researchers Richard Cook of City University London, Alan Johnston of University College London, and Cecilia Heyes of the University of Oxford in their study, examined the possible mechanisms which help us imitate.

The researchers conducted two experiments before concluding their study. For the first experiment, participants were videotaped while they recited jokes and were then asked to imitate four random facial expressions from their videos. With the help of a computer program, the accuracy with which the participants imitated the facial expressions could be determined.

While previous studies conducted on similar topics have relied on subjective assessments, the current study was conducted with the help of new technology allowed for automated and objective measurement of imitative accuracy.

Researchers through the study found that participants who could see their imitation attempts through visual feedback were able to improve with successive attempts. However, those who did not get a visual feedback, and relied on their own sense of relative position of their facial features only, got progressively worse with successive attempts.

The findings of the current study are evidence to the associative sequence-learning model, according to which, the accuracy of our imitating ability depends on learned associations between what we see (in the mirror or through feedback from others) and what we feel, Medical Xpress reports.

The researchers conclude that visual feedback may be a useful component for treatments and skill-training programs which aim at improving people's ability to imitate facial gestures.

The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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